A oneshot to keep any Ryou fans appeased (distracted) while I kick out the next chapter of Carry the Infinite.

(Genfic, but can be read as BakuraxRyou and/or YamixRyou if you feel like squinting.)

oOo

He's felt fear too much in his life. Sick, hot fear when he comes home from school one day and his father is huddled on the floor with the phone clutched to his ear, sobbing, and he knows- he knows it's Amane.

Dizzying, staggering fear when he's told it's Mother, too. He's terrified beyond measure at the thought of never seeing them again, but when his father goes to the hospital to identify the bodies he's too afraid to do anything but sit in the waiting room with all the living people worrying for their living loved ones. He's too scared to cry for over a year, and by the time he thinks his father could handle it if he broke down a little, he doesn't want to anymore.

oOo

He felt sharp, exhilarating fear the first time Bakura spoke to him, and every time after. Bakura is terrifying, but he's also a rush- a loud, feral shock to Ryou's system. He drives him to the breaking point of his buckling sanity and each time inexplicably draws him back just enough to keep him functional when Bakura doesn't want to deal with the real world anymore.

What scares Ryou the most about Bakura aren't his moments of furious frustration when he takes over Ryou's body to fling things at the walls or his gleeful laughter (which always signals bad times ahead) or even his periods of contemplative silence, when Ryou can go a week or more without seeing or hearing a sign of him. What truly frightens Ryou is the way Bakura seems to have a vested- albeit twisted- interest in pleasing him. When he feels like sharing vague references to his latest plot to crush the Pharaoh he always uses 'we', not 'I'. He pushes Ryou to make figurines for Yugi and his group, and when he refuses he promises to trap them in their favourite cards instead, assuring Ryou that they'll abandon him as soon as Bakura is gone otherwise. Ryou tells him not to even though he thinks he might be right, because that's what a friend would do, he supposes.

oOo

The fright he feels when he suddenly comes to on his feet in excruciating pain, Yami staring at him from across a dueling platform with an enormous dragon glaring from behind him, is one he's never quite experienced before. It's an utterly cold fear, like frozen stones sinking through his midsection and creeping icy white fingers up into his brain and the backs of his eyes. His body breaks down with it, and he collapses to his knees, clutching his screaming arm and crying out in pain and terror- but his mind is eerily calm. Even as he hears himself sobbing and begging his friend to help him, he can see the indecision prowling behind Yami's eyes. Bakura is hovering behind him, hot and bright as ever, and though he can't hear or see him he can feel him pacing like a caged animal. Yami's fingers twitch, and Ryou gets the feeling he's tempted to attack out of pity. The red dragon coiled around- they're on an airship, who holds a card game tournament on an airship?- the ship gapes its jaws and roars, and Ryou knows it's just a hologram but it's like it's eager, like it's telling Yami, 'You know you're going to, just let me obliterate him already!'

Ryou's cries and pleas fade away as the calm numbness of his mind begins to flood his body, until he's only shivering with dizzy adrenaline and the cold of the wind buffeting them, huddled on his knees between the Thief King and the Pharaoh.

"Yugi..." he says a little despairingly, searching for a sign of the big-eyed, big-hearted boy behind Yami's sharp eyes, but Yugi's never saved him from the shit Bakura's gotten him into before- why would he now? Yami hesitates, though, looking unsure, and the arm holding his duel disk lowers a little. Still, Ryou knows it's only a matter of time. As soon as he thinks it, he feels Bakura go very still behind him, a tense and throbbing stab of energy and intent at the back of his mind.

"If he attacks you, you'll die."

"I know."

"I'll have no body."

"That's your own fault-!"

"...I know."

And then he feels a wave of stubborn decisiveness, and his soul is being torn from his body, shoved hastily into the Ring, and as a veritable iron wall of defenses rise on all sides he hears Bakura's voice snarl, "Stay here and keep quiet and you might just live, fool," and then the last shield is in place and he's alone in the dim silence of the Ring.

It's only then that panic sets in at last, and he chokes on it, shoving as hard as he can at first their mind link, then the solid barrier Bakura has erected around the confines of the Millennium Ring, and finally throwing his spirit form against the walls, screaming. The only fruits of his labours are the echoes of his own voice fading down the halls of the Ring. He keeps trying, keeps trying, keeps trying, getting more and more desperate the longer his efforts go unnoticed and the longer Bakura doesn't suddenly appear in front of him with that cocky, 'I've-just-one-upped-the-Pharaoh' gleeful grin. Bakura doesn't come. But the barrier lifts- no, not lifts, shatters, so violently and so swiftly that Ryou doesn't have time to recoil from his latest shrieking lunge at it, and he spins back into his body so hard he passes out.

He's not unconscious for long. He wakes to the feeling of warm bare arms around him and a heart thudding wildly next to his ear, Yami's deep voice rumbling into his temples as he calls out to him with a hint of desperation in his voice. A point of that damn Puzzle is poking into his armpit, and his wounded arm is crushed painfully against Yami's stomach. He groans, wanting to shove him off so his arm will stop feeling like it's being rent in two, but his body is aching sharply and he's too exhausted to do much more than roll his weight limply against the chest he's leaning on.

"-Bakura-!" Yami gasps, relief heavy in his voice, and for the first time Ryou thinks it would've really been kind of nice if Bakura's stupid evil plot actually worked for once because the Puzzle Spirit is being none too gentle to his arm as he squeezes him. "-Hurts..." he hisses hoarsely, weakly knocking the palm of his uninjured arm against the Pharaoh's chest, and Yami recoils with a sharp breath and an undertone of what might have been a hasty apology before his body grows hot against Ryou's, and when it cools to normal human temperature it's Yugi's scrawny ribcage he's being gently eased off of.

The Ring Spirit lost. It hits him suddenly now with the clawing pressure on his wound lowered. Bakura isn't supposed to be able to die, he knows- Bakura himself told him that (he often went into great detail about his more immortal, godlike qualities). But Bakura told him many things, and while Ryou doesn't really think he ever lied to him, per se, he does know that the Thief had a slight tendency to underestimate any but his own abilities. He still hasn't opened his eyes, perhaps afraid of what he might see, but now he uses that to play up his exhaustion, collapsing his shoulder (above the wound) and head heavily into Yugi's chest as he tentatively touches around for the mind link.

There it is. He can feel it, a faintly-glowing tether to the Spirit of the Ring, and Ryou hesitantly brushes his thoughts against it, leery of Bakura suddenly blazing out from some hidden pocket of space in a full-blown rage at being defeated- and by the Pharaoh, no less.

But it's empty. Hollow.

It isn't the quiet of Bakura shutting him out to sulk or plot or the silence of his slumbering within the Ring when Ryou's life is being too dull to keep him entertained. There's simply... Nothing there.

He grasps at the link more firmly, hesitantly calling out to the Spirit, but he might as well be screaming at a new moon; there's no sense of anything to speak at, let alone anyone to hear him. The silence is so total that there is no echo. His words are swallowed by the black velvet void on Bakura's end of the mind link almost before he says them.

Yugi's calling to him, telling him to hang on, it's okay, everything will be alright, and he can feel someone- Joey, Tristan, or Duke from the feel of them- hefting him into their arms. His body rocks aimlessly as they walk (though he suspects from the high, nervous tones being used all around him that they're hurrying as fast as they're willing to jostle him), and he can smell the sweat of adrenaline and fear on them and himself.

He tries again.

"Bakura.

"Bakura.

"Bakura! Bakura, Bakura, Bakura, Baku-" He goes on and on, and he thinks he started mumbling it out loud at some point by the way the worried voices around him have gone silent. As he repeats it the name becomes a word, the word becomes gibberish, and the gibberish becomes a mantra, until the incessant, shrill beeping of some medical machine mercifully drowns it out and he can sleep.

oOo

It's nearly five months before Ryou feels the hot, spiking fear the Ring Spirit gives him again. He runs from it at first, like an idiot, because even if he didn't want to Bakura wouldn't have much of a choice but to follow, tethered as he is to Ryou's body in this realm. He retreats to a church, though secretly he thinks that having his own personal flock of guardian angels wouldn't stop Bakura from doing whatever he bloody well pleases, so some stained-glass windows and a few crosses nailed on the walls aren't going to do a damned thing. The Thief seems to share similar sentiments, cackling with glee as he graciously brings all the candles to a blaze to light up the dim little church.

He puts on a good show, sounding none the worse for his extended vacation in the Shadow Realm.

Ryou puts on a better show, because as much as he's utterly terrified of the Spirit of the Millennium Ring, Bakura has given him more and put up with more from him than all the other people still in his life combined.

They bicker and shout at each other, Ryou rebelling, Bakura blazing so bright and vivid that the organ pipes ring and quiver violently in their housings, and all the while the mind link is roaring with their voices and feelings pummeling each other. Those pretty stained-glass windows shatter with the sheer force of Bakura, glimmering shards of colour smashing at Ryou's feet.

They put on a good show. Because when Bakura finally elbows his way back into Ryou's body it might well be with all the grace and care of a stampeding elephant, and Ryou might well be beating back against him with all the tenderness of a howling banshee, but it isn't just his body Bakura swiftly sweeps over with his mind when he's checking for injuries, and when he shoves himself into place as the consciousness in charge and smirkingly assures Ryou that they'll have the Ring back soon and he won't have to be asleep for long, Ryou growls and shouts and threatens him to not hurt his friends or else, but he's conveniently just a little too slow on the draw when making his barrier to keep Bakura's slumber at bay.

He slips into the encompassing blackness of sleep believing, fearlessly, that he will wake again.